The NBA's G League is determined to push forward with its season despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, league sources have told ESPN. In the face of health and financial concerns, a primary motivation is to not let the league-run Ignite team fall on its face in the program's inaugural campaign. Some of the top prospects in the country are on team Ignite.
The Ignite, which became official in April as an alternative for highly touted recruits to be paid up to $500,000 their first year out of high school rather than go to college, has both Jalen Green, the No. 1 high school player in the Class of 2020 according to the ESPN 100, and Jonathan Kuminga, the No. 1 player in the Class of 2021 before he reclassified to the Class of 2020, on its roster, along with several other five-star recruits.
Based in Walnut Creek, California, and coached by former Denver Nuggets coach Brian Shaw, the Ignite completed their first exhibition game in their home market this week. Ignite faced a team of G League veterans and lost 113-107, despite 26 points from Kuminga and 22 points from Green. They played a second scrimmage Thursday and lost 125-99, with Kuminga (21 points) and Green (20 points) standing out once again.
In order to support a season, the G League plans to mimic the NBA's "bubble" model, and is eyeing Atlanta as its temporary home after also considering Orlando, Florida, league sources told ESPN. The G League season, normally a 50-game slate from early November until late March followed by playoffs, would be truncated to go from January until March, sources said.
And just like the NBA bubble, which invited only 22 of the league's 30 teams to complete the season at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, a G League bubble would not be able to handle the logistics to accommodate all 29 teams at a single site. As such, G League president Shareef Abdur-Rahim recently asked franchises to volunteer to forgo the season, hoping to settle on anywhere from 14 to 20 teams to complete the season with, sources told ESPN.
Preliminarily, 10 teams, including the South Bay Lakers and the Maine Red Claws (the Boston Celtics' affiliate) indicated they will opt out, sources told ESPN. The G League has received commitments from about a dozen teams, including the Ignite, sources told ESPN, and awaits final decisions from a handful of other franchises. With the details surrounding the upcoming season being so fluid, the teams on the fence are not sure what exactly they would be committing to, sources told ESPN.
The average G League salary pays a player approximately $35,000. The cash influx to the Ignite was intended to give players like Green a better basketball environment in order to become more NBA ready while earning a competitive salary that would keep a player of that caliber from pursuing professional leagues overseas, as Brandon Jennings and Jeremy Tyler had previously done, or going to college.
Without G League exhibition games and other organized contests against youth and junior national teams for NBA scouts to observe Green and Kuminga -- both potential lottery selections in the 2021 NBA draft -- there is concern that future interest from top high school prospects in going the G League route could diminish.
The G League suspended its 2019-20 season on March 12 and ultimately canceled the remainder in June because of coronavirus concerns.